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An update on the Copper Plan

Robert Marquis, director
Bureau de l'exploration géologique du Québec
Géologie Québec directorate

Over the past few years, several Québec copper producers have ceased activities because their mineral reserves were depleted. This drop in local copper production has had a major impact on the supply of concentrate for the Horne smelter. For the time being, significant world consumption of copper makes it possible to keep the Horne smelter in operation. But its medium- and long-term development requires a local supply.

The Copper Plan: its development

The development of a copper plan was initially proposed, in October 2003, by a working group on stimulating and improving the effectiveness of mineral exploration in Québec. The idea was taken up again in June 2004 by the Noranda Coalition, which advocated the creation of a committee involving key mining industry and regional economic development stakeholders to take an inventory of the situation, identify the issues and develop recommendations to promote the discovery of new copper deposits.

A group of experts from the governments of Québec and Ontario, the federal government, several private companies, universities in Québec and Ontario, and specialized research centres also gathered for a workshop in Rouyn-Noranda, in March 2005. These copper industry experts recommended that new geoscience work be carried out in specific sectors of the Abitibi Greenstone Belt, which still has considerable potential for the discovery of copper deposits.

Revitalizing copper exploration activities

Even though the geological coverage of this area is relatively complete, a great deal of work needs to be done quickly to revitalize copper exploration. More specifically, geophysical and geological surveys, as well as geochemical surveys of overburden and various thematic maps are needed. This multidisciplinary work will require networking between human resources from Québec's Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, the Ontario Geological Survey, and the Geological Survey of Canada, in association with universities, various research centres, and several mineral exploration companies.

The Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune intends to take the lead in promoting the discovery and development of new deposits by adopting this new partnership approach, which will require unprecedented cooperation. This strategy will undoubtedly foster the discovery of new copper deposits and ensure the medium- and long-term development of the industry.

Areas of interest

During the year, the Department has invested considerably in work to acquire geoscience data. Geological, geophysical, and geochemical surveys were carried out all over Québec, with more or less detailed coverage depending on the area of interest.

As part of the Copper Plan, the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nord-du-Québec administrative regions were targeted for most of the work. From 2006 to 2009, attention will focus on the following geological sectors:

  1. The sector between Lebel-sur-Quévillon and Normétal
  2. The Rouyn-Noranda sector
  3. The Chibougamau sector
  4. The Baie-James territory, north of the rivière Eastmain

Work to be done

The recommended approach will vary based on the degree of geoscience knowledge for each of the sectors. The work is divided into four categories:

  1. Acquiring airborne and ground geophysical data
  2. Acquiring geochemical data for rocks and overburden
  3. New geological mapping and updating existing maps
  4. Acquiring specific geoscience data (thematic studies)

Counteracting the drop in copper production in Québec

Finally, even though current market conditions are favourable to ongoing mining activities related to copper production, the process leading to the Copper Plan has made it possible to better identify the issues and come up with options to counteract the drop in copper production in Québec. The measures selected and implemented by the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune are essential to stimulate exploration work for the metal, increase the number of companies exploring for copper, increase exploration expenditures, and generate new exploration targets.

The best potential for discovery in the short term is still near known mine sites where the geological setting is favourable and road and mining infrastructure is present. However, in these areas, exploration must target greater depths.

A partnership agreement will soon be signed with our colleagues in Ontario and the federal government to carry out the necessary work, with industry support.